Right-wing populist political figures along with some tabloid press often portray refugees and asylum seekers in a negative light. Dishonest information is disseminated, insinuating these people are bogus and have come here for a better life, free housing and to cheat the benefits system. In reality, they have come here after fleeing for their lives because of escalating conflicts, prolonged war, economic ruin and the rise of Islamic terrorism. There is a misconception that they take away jobs from indigenous citizens. The truth is, however, that unless someone gets refugee status, they are forbidden to work and even then end up in low-paid, unskilled jobs. Most are exploited by cash-in-hand job offers. The suffering they have endured during their journey is little understood. Hardly any consideration is given as to the real reasons why they have fled their homelands.
Human rights for asylum seekers in the UK are limited. While they are safe from war, oppression and tyranny, they face a whole new set of challenges once they set foot on British soil. Let’s face it; this country is not the most welcoming of places for asylum seekers. Politicians and members of the public don’t care if asylum seekers live an ‘underclass’ existence. One of the things that struck me most while writing my book on young refugees and asylum seekers was that the first two years after arrival are crucial in determining what type of life they are likely to have in this country. More often than not, the pendulum swings in the direction of lengthy immigration delays, sometimes as long as a few years, without explanation or justification. Whilst waiting, most asylum seekers are expected to live in run-down neighbourhoods, often in squalid sub-standard and over-crowded accommodation and on a small amount of money. Having privacy and maintaining dignity is impossible. Many suffer in silence and fall victim to depression, profound loneliness and a total lack of hope that anything positive will occur in their lives. Those who are refused asylum often have all support withdrawn until they are in a position to submit a new claim. They rely mainly on charitable organisations and food banks for help. During this wait, they face poverty and homelessness, as well as an enticement into criminal activities, drug and sexual exploitation through sheer desperation. Many also fear being incarcerated in over-crowded detention centres with their length of stay undetermined.
If Britain cares about the Human Rights of asylum seekers, it must be prepared to negotiate resettlement programmes with key aid agencies or accept that spontaneous arrivals will continue based on the desperation of those seeking sanctuary. Britain is the sixth richest country in the world, and it is well within its means to take in more refugees and provide them with a decent life. A complete overhaul of the Home Office and its asylum processes needs urgent implementation. Promises to do so in recent years have shown to be little more than rhetoric. Better educational opportunities and vocational training need to be made available, as in Germany, for example, for those who have not completed their secondary education here and are without qualifications. Otherwise, limited prospects will continue, even for those who speak English, making life extremely difficult in terms of employment, finances and getting somewhere decent to live.
Declan Henry is a qualified social worker and author of Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers – The Truth about Britain published by Critical Publishing UK.
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